I’m standing outside the mercado municipal. I’ve just purchased a huge vase and other items. A large box sits at my feet, and I’m hailing a cab. But I’m not alone. Four other people have gotten into the act, hailing a cab for me, some young boys and a hyperactive fellow wearing what looks like a uniform but isn’t. He’s been directing traffic at a busy intersection, helping pedestrians to cross. I thought he was hired to do this, but apparently he’s a volunteer. They’re all volunteers. And the town/country is full of them, residents desperate for pesos.
While sitting in a restaurant or walking on the beach, vendors constantly accost you, offering everything from straw hats, to jewelry. Similarly, walking down the street, shop owners and restaurateurs aggressively seek customers, almost literally wrapping a cane around your neck and roping you in. They want to sell you real estate, a slice of paradise, and much of Puerta Vallarta is paradise, if you like sea, sand, mountains, balmy weather, good food, and beautiful sunsets.
I must say, I found myself getting cynical, and so too are some Mexicans, involved in a state of hostile dependency, needing American business and our dollar. But for a price. Just once I wanted someone to open a door for me, or otherwise be helpful/neighborly without expecting a tip. I wanted to walk past a shop or stall without someone telling me that he was going to give me the best deal ever, without trying to sell me something or have ulterior motives. I wanted to be treated with dignity, and I wanted to reciprocate. Or does desperation drive you to these extremes?
Does this mean I don’t think Mexico is a good place to visit or that I wouldn’t recommend Puerto Vallarta? Not at all. I’m constantly struck by the Mexican generosity of spirit and capacity for work and play. I think we gringos can learn from them. But I hate to see this spirit contaminated by greed and the shopping game.